3/5 Marines share memories of lost brothers;reflections of endearing personalities, passionate commitment to Corps and one

13 Apr 2000 | LCpl. Nathan J. Ferbert

When "I" Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, holds a formation, they're missing an entire squad -- 14 Marines who died during an MV-22 Osprey training mission Saturday in the desert of Marana, Ariz. The Marines died when the Osprey crashed during nighttime operational testing as part of training to evacuate civilians from hostile territory. They are dead, but they are not forgotten -- "I" Co. confirmed that Tuesday at their company office at Camp San Mateo. "If there was any other way to go, each individual would have honor in going this way," said Sgt. Donald Hunt, squad leader, 1st Platoon. "They did their job ... The accident is a bad thing, but it takes something like this to make people realize our job is reality. ?The Marines will never be forgotten. Each Marine in "I" Co. left part of their heart in the desert. I think that alone won't let us forget this. Every one of them had an effect on another Marine, whether it was on the job or in friendship." Marines gathered outside the company office, some with faces buried in their hands, others telling stories and showing pictures of their fallen friends. All waited patiently to tell each Marine's story. The only officer killed, 2nd Lt. Clayton J. Kennedy, 24, of Clifton Bosque, Texas, was portrayed as a dedicated family man and Marine. "We worked out together, shared an office and saw each other all day long," said 2ndLt. James Koehler, 3rd Plt. "He was a really good guy with a good sense of humor, the kind of guy you want your kids to grow up and be like. He was incredibly dedicated to his wife and family. They were very important to him." "He had more ideals than anyone I've known," said 2ndLt. Nick Spurgeon, Weapons Plt. "He joined the Marine Corps because he wanted to serve his country. He was patriotic, and he tried to do everything the best he could, like with his marriage and job. He lived to a higher standard than most people." "For a guy that could do anything, it speaks volumes that he chose to be an infantry platoon commander, but that was what he wanted to be," said 2ndLt. Brendan Higgins, formerly of Weapons. Plt. "He was really in tune with his men, keeping them happy and morale up," said Sgt. Jonathan Jackson, squad leader, 1st Plt. "We were sitting there baking on the flightline in Yuma, and he wanted to buy everyone a soda -- he did. It showed he really did care. I've never had anyone do that before." The sheer number of Marines who wanted to say something about Sgt. Jose Alvarez, 28, a machinegunner from Uvalde, Texas, spoke volumes about his importance to the company. "To lieutenants, Sgt. Alvarez set an example of what a Marine platoon commander should be," Koehler said. "He was always thought of as the senior platoon commander in the whole company." "We shared the platoon sergeants' office for Weapons and 3rd Platoon," said Sgt. Elias Hinojosa, squad leader, 3rd Plt. "In my opinion, he held Weapons Platoon together. They had this thing called the ?Wolf Pack,? and he was the head wolf. I asked him once why he stayed in the Corps, and he said he loved his job and what he does. He was a warrior, always joking. His nickname was "Bum Scoop" Alvarez, because he was always coming up with rumors, and people believed him. ?This puts things in a different perspective. It makes you realize how fragile life is -- one day you're here, one day you're not." "He always said his daughter was his life," said Cpl. Jordan Keesler, Weapons Plt. "He died doing what he loved. He had a good sense of humor and was a great leader. He was like a father figure for our whole platoon. His decisiveness is one thing I've learned from him. If you were to look up Marine in a dictionary, it should have him there. He was a walking book of knowledge." The two corporals who died were also revered by their peers. Corporal Adam C. Neely was a rifleman from Winthrop, Wash., and Sgt. Cayle Maxwell, squad leader, 3rd Plt., was closest to him. "I've known him my whole life -- since kindergarten," Maxwell said. "He was a good guy, he'd do anything for anybody. He was my best friend, and he always put others first. He was an excellent father and husband. He had an adopted daughter and his wife is pregnant right now." "He came back off shoulder surgery wanting to prove himself," said Sgt. Jacob Parkinson, squad leader, 1st Plt. "He wanted everyone to know he was ready to train and do it all over again. Even with the pain in his shoulder, he never went to the 'doc.' He would just put ice on it and gear up for the next day." Teacher, friend and fighter were three words used to describe Cpl. Can Soler, 21, a rifleman from Palm City, Fla. "He was the ultimate Marine. The last thing he did 10 minutes before he got on the Osprey was give a class on the M240-G," Maxwell said. "He was always training and teaching new Marines." "I've known him for 2 1/2 years. We were roommates for two years when we first got to 3/5," said Cpl. Adam Hryb. "We were best friends, but total opposites. I'm tall and 240 pounds, he was short and 145 pounds. One word to describe him is unselfish. "Without question he loved the Corps more than anyone -- that was his life. He was also a dancer, that was his claim to fame. In Okinawa, they had some John Travolta disco belt, and he won it from this corporal (nicknamed) ?G-love,? and it was something he wanted to pass on to another Marine on the next pump. "If he would have known this would have happened, he wouldn't have changed a thing -- total unselfishness.? "He would be the one I'd want with me if (expletive) went down," said Sgt. Jeffrey Provencher, guide, 3rd Plt. Another Marine who had far-reaching influence on the company was LCpl. Jason T. Duke, 28, a machinegunner from Sacramento. "He would get Marines together to do things after work, like sports or the beach," Keesler said. "He took care of his section. He was aggressive and stubborn, but he got things done." "He was my old roommate, and he would do morning cleanup on our room at 0400 and be the first person in the chow hall at 0530, even on the weekends. He was a big boy," said LCpl. Andrew Holstine, Weapons Plt. "Before he came in the Corps, he did everything he wanted to do. He could carry four guys on him trying to tackle him in football." "It's going to be hard to wake up and not hear Duke telling me to get on the catwalk with a broom -- he never failed to get me to do that," said LCpl. Bradley Sullivan, Weapons Plt. "He was a renaissance man -- he could do anything," said PFC Harold Spivey, 3rd Plt. "If we were in combat and he saw a grenade, he'd do something like sit on it, but it wouldn't hurt him, because he'd want to stay in battle." Lance Cpl.Jesus Gonzalez, 27, an assaultman from San Diego, also died in the crash. "I went to boot camp with him," LCpl. Bradley Sullivan said. "He was a short Mexican guy who couldn't pronounce my name, so he called me Silvia, and now that's my nickname. People should remember his love for the Corps." "Gonzalez was a PT stud who lived and breathed the gym," said LCpl. Fred Ossanna, Weapons Plt. "He always asked for time to work out and lift weights." Lance Cpl. Travis Neuman, 1st Plt., described how 21-year-old McAllen, Texas, native LCpl. Jorge A. Morin helped others. "He was a great guy, the type to pick on you when you messed up, but he'd come back later to talk to you about it. He didn't look down on anyone. He held things together. If someone was fighting, he'd negotiate and calm them down. He just had his 21st birthday." "You have a guy in your squad who you want to mold and give him everything you know -- I wanted Morin to replace me when I leave," Jackson said. "He would have done a great job." "(Lance Cpl. Seth G. Jones) came into the Corps at age 17, right out of high school, and he just turned 18," Sullivan said of the Bend, Ore., native. "He was a big hockey buff ... He had a hockey shrine in his room with a stick, puck, goalie mask, skates and his jersey. He will always be remembered for his smile. Despite any bad times around him, he was always lighthearted on the inside." "Jones wanted to be a drill instructor and make the Corps a career," Ossanna said. "He wanted to be a DI so he could be a drill master -- he loved drilling. His uniforms were always pressed out, and he had spit-shined boots -- he stuck out." A native of Houston, PFC Kenneth O. Paddio, 23, was remembered as an original. "He was the most unique out of anyone," Neuman said. "He was the only black guy in the platoon and was real protective of his heritage. He used to tell me I was the whitest white guy, and he tried to give me rhythm by playing music for me. He always talked about crawdads and Louisiana. He loved home cooking, like gumbo by the pound." "Paddio was quiet, but when I gave him a task, he was always ready," Parkinson said. "He was the first one to jump up for working parties. Whenever I asked him how long he was staying in the Corps, he would say however long my mother makes me stay in." Holstine felt there was something strange about the day his friends died. It reminded him of something he told PFC Gabriel C. Clevenger, a 21-year-old machinegunner from Picher, Okla. "There was something hanging over everyone that day. It was like people knew something wasn't right. Six guys from Weapons Platoon had broken chevrons; they said it was bad luck. Usually they would change them. I gave Clevenger my PFC chevrons, because I got promoted in the field. I told him to put them on, but they were still sitting on his cot when we got back. When I saw the chevrons sitting there, I was still in denial about the whole thing." Private First Class Alfred Corona, 19, a machinegunner and native of San Antonio, Texas, was praying all the way out to the Osprey, Holstine said. "He was really religious. He could wake up and even if it was raining, he would say it's a great day. He would always keep us up at night telling the funniest stories in the hooch. He'd wake everyone up because others were laughing so hard." "Corona loved Chess," Sullivan said. "There wasn't anyone who could beat him in the whole company, not even the lieutenants. His personal quote was "Jesus, isn't it a beautiful day? It can only get better." Two other PFCs, George P. Santos, 19, of Long Beach, and Keoki P. Santos, 24, of Grand Ronde, Ore., were important parts of their squad, Parkinson said. "I've known them about 10 months since they first came in the Fleet. I couldn't ask for a better squad. They knew what they were doing. They were the best squad in the platoon. I never had any problems with them. ?George Santos was a radioman, and we always pick good Marines to be a radioman. He knew his job and learned real fast how to call for fire. Keoki Santos was the oldest one, and he knew how to take his responsibilities. His short-term goal was to beat Sgt. Jackson in the PFT and weight room. His long-term goal was to beat me all the time. He talked about it, he'd say, ?I'm catching you, sergeant.? A recent addition to "I" Co., 19-year-old Pvt. Adam L. Tatro of Brownwood, Texas, had a promising future, Parkinson said. "I only knew Tatro for 1 1/2 months. He was transferred to us from "K" Co., 3/5. He was always full of energy, bouncing around. He looked forward to picking up PFC and was all ready to go up for a meritorious lance corporal board." In between stories and showing pictures of their fellow warriors, Marines tried to make sense of what happened. "We go on training operations all the time, and you never worry about someone getting shot or a helo going down," Jackson said. "I saw it in some of their eyes like they knew something was up. I saw it then, and I don't ever want to see it again." "So far in the company, we talk about them, tell stories and it's allowing us to heal," Spivey said. "I haven't had a decent night's sleep yet, and I have nightmares. I lost my boys in this thing. India Company is tight, we've been through thick and thin. It's making us closer and putting our differences aside. Yesterday, the company gunny, GySgt. (Larry) Robertson, got emotional talking to us. He couldn't finish his last sentence. He got all choked up and walked away, but his speech was the most motivating thing I've ever heard." "I don't want them to be remembered as the Marines who went down," Neuman said. "I want them to be remembered for their personalities as people -- they're not some computers. ?When you hear about a crash, you think about the number of people who died, not who the people are and the hardships that come with it. It's easy to forget, but important to remember. I want all of them to know they're good people, and well-respected."
Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton